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US wanted Pacific to pick a side

The nations of the Pacific region almost signed an agreement that would have shown the world a clear choice between the United States and China in the case of a conflict.

The original agreement proposed by the US – which was not signed – suggests the US is quickly looking to build allies in the Pacific as tensions mount in the region. Within the last 48 hours North Korea fired missiles over Japan into the Pacific.

The Solomon Islands was the nation that forced the rethink, with Foreign Affairs Minister Jeremiah Manele explaining that the initial proposed US-Pacific declaration was shunned because it was not clear and made veiled references to China.

Mr Manele said from New Zealand that these references suggested Pacific nations would need to pick a side in the geopolitical conflict between China and the United States.

“Some references that put us in the position that we had to choose sides, and we didn’t want to be put in that position,” he said.

New Zealand foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta meeting with her Solomon counterpart in Wellington. Picture New Zealand High Commission Honiara
New Zealand foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta meeting with her Solomons counterpart in Wellington. Picture: New Zealand High Commission Honiara

He said the references to China were made indirectly and choosing a side was something the Solomon Islands was against. They signed the declaration a day later after the changes were accommodated.

The declaration is the cornerstone of the US’s re-engagement with the Pacific, which clearly shows more focus on defence including training with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and more patrols by the US Navy.

In more than one way, it gives the notion that the US is gearing up for the worst, something which was hinted by head of United States third fleet, Vice Admiral Michael Boyle during the Rim of the Pacific exercise.

Vice Admiral Boyle had said the US was closer to conflict in the Pacific than it is to peace and called for a change in the command structure to reflect that.

He had called for a centralised command and control structure, and a standing maritime force similar to those elsewhere around the globe that could rapidly respond to a crisis in the Indo-Pacific region.

He said there was a need to understand right now which nations in the Pacific would join the US if there was a conflict with either China or North Korea.

The US Pacific Fleet during a training in July in the Pacific Ocean. Picture US Pacific Fleet
The US Pacific Fleet training in July in the Pacific Ocean. Picture: US Pacific Fleet

Concerns about the militarisation of the Pacific stepped up a notch on Tuesday after North Korea reportedly fired a missile over Japan into the Pacific. Mr Manele and New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta both criticised this move by North Korea.

“New Zealand has been a long-advocate for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and our stance has been well articulated over a number of years. It is concerning,” Ms Mahuta said.

Mr Manele said the actions of North Korea are a concern and one that is condemned by them. The Japanese prime minister’s office said at least one missile fired from North Korea flew over Japan and was believed to have landed in the Pacific Ocean.

It said authorities issued an alert to residents in northeastern regions to evacuate buildings nearby in what was reportedly the first such alert in five years.

Pacific nations have had a united voice in saying that conflict was not needed in the region and they would not be forced to choose a side.

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